Three security guards at EPA headquarters have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to an email sent yesterday to employees and others who normally work in the William Jefferson Clinton Federal Building complex in downtown Washington.
The brief message from EPA's facilities division does not say when the three officers were tested but that a contract manager notified the Federal Protective Service — a branch of the Department of Homeland Security — of the results late last week. The three officers are in quarantine, while the facilities staff is striving to identify all areas of the Clinton complex where they worked or visited the last two weeks, according to the email.
So far, those areas are believed to include two main first floor lobbies as well as a lobby on the third floor, where EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and other senior managers have their offices, along with parts of the basement "specific to guard force operations," the email indicates.
The agency has encouraged all of its approximately 14,000 employees around the country to telework since mid-March, leaving it unclear how many headquarters workers and contractors may have had on-the-job contact with any of the guards after they contracted the virus causing COVID-19, a potentially fatal disease, before they tested positive. Also unclear is whether the guards may have come in contact with visitors who typically have to sign in at the security desk.
In response to emailed questions from E&E News this morning, EPA spokeswoman Corry Schiermeyer said "the vast majority" of headquarters workers are teleworking, but she did not address whether the agency believes that Wheeler or other top officials may have been exposed. She also did not list any other specific steps that are being taken in the wake of the notification of the guards' diagnosis.
But in general, she said, when the agency "is notified that an employee or contractor has been diagnosed with COVID-19, or has symptoms of COVID-19, the Agency notifies all employees who may have been exposed."
EPA also follows the General Services Administration's "guidelines on disinfecting work stations, common areas, work space, and other pertinent areas of a building or work space of potentially infected employee that is symptomatic," Schiermeyer said.
Nationwide, she said, EPA has been notified of 23 cases of COVID-19 among staffers. That number is up from 15 last week.
Reporter Kevin Bogardus contributed.